George Baptiste Wins Detroit Tournament
During March 1891, George Baptiste travelled from St. Louis to Detroit to take part in a catch-as-catch-can wrestling tournament. While primarily a Greco-Roman wrestler, Baptiste would compete in the dominant American style of catch-as-catch-can.
The 26-year-old Baptiste was an accomplished amateur and professional wrestler. Entering the Detroit tournament, Baptiste had lost only one match as a professional. The year prior, Baptiste attended Western Association of Amateur Athletes 1890 Tournament in Chicago, Illinois. The Chicago wrestler Touhey threw Baptiste in a catch-as-catch-can bout, Baptiste’s first in this style. Baptiste was undefeated in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Standing only 5’06” and weighing 165 pounds, Baptiste was a powerful and skilled middleweight wrestler. Despite his size limitations, Baptiste entered both the heavy and middleweight divisions of the Detroit tournament. It is likely he only competed in the middleweight division though.
In Detroit, Baptiste ran through his competition. Winning with comparative ease, Baptise would one day claim to be the World Middleweight Wrestling Champion. Despite these claims, Baptise was a very good but not great wrestler. He was not a serious threat to Frank Gotch and “Farmer” Burns.
St. Louis wrestler Julius Schaan also won at the tournament. Schaan took the light heavyweight division at the Detroit tournament. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch enthusiastically reported on the men’s victory.
George Baptiste and Julius Schaan would continue to wrestle throughout the 1890s before settling into their professions as owner of a tent and awning company and owner of a soda shop respectively. Professional athletic careers are short particularly in the 19th Century.
Most professional athletes competed on the side and had other professions. If the wrestlers were great like William Muldoon and Frank Gotch, they could make money touring with stage companies and later vaudeville. If they were good or capable wrestlers like Baptiste and Schaan, they had professions in their hometowns or owned farms.
George Baptiste was an advocate of physical culture (physical fitness in the 19th Century). Besides wrestling, Baptiste lifted weights, swam and performed gymnastic exercise. His grandfather Stephen lived to be 115 years old. His father Alexander would live to 100 years of age. Baptiste intended to match their record for longevity.
As Baptiste aged, he began to train other wrestlers like local heavyweight Oscar Wasem. Wasem was good enough to beat Frank Gotch early in his career. Wasem often gave Baptiste credit for training him as a young wrestler.
George Baptiste would spend many years as on of St. Louis’ most celebrated citizens. His celebrity originated in a tournament in Detroit, where Baptiste laid claim to be the best middleweight wrestler in the United States. It would end in 1938. But that is a story for another post.
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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 22, 1891 edition, p. 6